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Social Housing Speed Read – Local Plans

We look at the High Court's decision in R (on the application of Skipton Properties) v Craven District Council [2017] EWHC 534 (Admin) reminding councils of the importance of completing Local Plans after the High Court quashes interim guidance.

What is a local plan?

A local plan sets out local planning policies and identifies how land is used, determining what will be built and where. When adopted, local plans provide the framework for development across the country.

The White Paper (“Fixing our broken housing market”) considered that insufficient planning by local authorities for the homes that they need is one of three factors contributing to England’s “broken” housing system.

Local planning authorities (LPAs) will be required to review their local plans at least once every five years to ensure these remain up to date and reflect local housing need.

What happened in R (on the application of Skipton Properties) v Craven District Council?

Craven District Council (the “Council”) released interim guidance entitled “Negotiating Affordable Housing Contributions” which included its response to a change in government policy aimed at relieving the burden of affordable housing on small-scale developers.

The guidance set out that financial contributions towards affordable housing would be sought from developers of six to ten homes in designated rural areas, containing less than 40% affordable housing.

The guidance was challenged by Skipton Properties on the basis that the statements it contains means that the Council was required to go through all procedures involved to formally adopt it as a development plan document, or as a supplementary planning document (under Regulation 5 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning)(England) Regulations 2012 “the Regulations”)).

The Council argued that the document was guidance and merely something for the public to read in order to inform them what the Local Authority will want to achieve in the future.

What did Mr Justice Jay say?

Mr Justice Jay upheld the arguments of Skipton Properties. He stated that the provisions challenged were obviously a policy (falling within Regulation 5 of the Regulations) that would regulate applications for planning permission.

There were a number of procedural requirements that had to be carried out before it could formally be adopted as a development plan document, with such requirements not being met in this instance.

In his closing remarks, Mr Justice Jay acknowledged the practical difficulties planning departments face as a result of frequent changes to legislation but emphasised that the focus should be on “timeous preparation” of Local Plans.

What impact will this judgment have on social housing and local authorities?

This case consequently highlights that arguably there is no longer a time for interim guidance. Clearly local authorities need to be aware that if any of the subject matter within their interim guidance falls within the definition of a development plan document or supplementary planning document under the Regulations, then it must be prepared to meet the procedural requirements.

It is arguable that the depth of the definitions contained within the Regulations means it is questionable whether or not interim guidance can actually be prepared without needing to fulfill the procedural requirements.

This could impact social housing by creating extra procedural barriers to local authorities demonstrating clearly to the public what their aims are with social and affordable housing.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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